The SD Grassland Coalition was created to serve as a voice for grassland managers. The grass resource, range and pastureland, makes up over half of South Dakota's land area and represents a tremendous economic and environmental asset.
The Coalition is a call to action - a call to renew our commitment to South Dakota's grassland resource. We believe what happens on the land is crucial to our economic and environmental well-being. Therefore, we have identified policies that impact the land and resolved the following as priorities to protect grassland resources and our ranching livelihood.
Sodsaver is a provision in the Farm Bill that would reduce crop insurance assistance and noninsured crop disaster assistance for crops grown on native sod acreage converted to cropland for the first four years after enactment of the 2012 Farm Bill. Sodsaver will help keep land in grass here in South Dakota and across the country.
Currently, farm policies help ensure that producers make a profit on their land regardless of harvest yield. This means farmers are exposed to fewer risks when converting native grassland to cropland, much of which happens on lands that are marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. Enacting Sodsaver would reduce the federal subsidies that encourage conversion. While landowners will still have the choice to convert their land, they would do so at their own risk and not at the expense of taxpayers.
Conservation compliance has been a staple of the Farm Bill that many of us have worked with since 1985. Conservation compliance has been required for programs such as CRP, CSP, EQIP, GRP, WHIP, and WRP as well as commodity programs such as marketing loans, disaster programs, and direct and counter cyclical payments. So, many of us who are benefiting from these programs are already successfully doing conservation compliance on the land. The concern many of us have, however, is that the newly proposed Farm Bill puts direct and counter cyclical program payments on the chopping block. This will remove the financial incentives for farmer to do the right thing and not drain land identified as a wetland or protect highly erodible land from excessive erosion. The solution to this problem is the controversy. It lies in tying conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies.
Why tie Conservation Compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies?
Tying conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies means making conservation compliance a minimum eligibility requirement for receiving crop insurance premium subsidies, just like it’s a requirement for all of those conservation and commodities programs mentioned previously. With the taxpayer subsidizing more than 60% of the crop insurance premium, it seems logical that a conservation plan should be in place on the land in order to receive the taxpayer-supported subsidy. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, nationally less than 2% of corn and soybean production, less than 5% of wheat production and less than 1% of the cotton and rice production would be impacted by linking conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies. Why? Because so many of us are already doing it, and therefore only a very small minority of producers would be affected by linking the two together. Should you decide to not do conservation compliance on the land, you will still be able to purchase crop insurance – you just won’t receive the subsidy that your fellow American taxpayers help provide to pay for your premium.
Our state lost more than 200,000 beef cows in the last dozen years because of grassland conversion. But, the economic impact of this conversion and loss of grassland goes way beyond the loss of the cows. The loss of our grasslands impacts runoff, wildlife, pollinators, reptiles, recreation as well as diversity and sustainability in our agricultural operations and communities. Did you know about 400,000 out of state hunters and fishermen bring about $220 million into our state each year? Without grasslands, healthy lakes and streams, and prairie potholes, that money will go somewhere else.
Farmers enjoy the safety net which crop insurance provides. Conservation compliance provides that same safety net for our natural resources. The long-term effect of farming highly erodible land and conversion of our wetlands threatens our food security and public health. The challenge we in production agriculture have is how do we responsibly produce food for a growing world population? The American public is expecting us to do the right thing. Let’s link conservation to crop insurance premium subsidies so we can live up to our reputation as true environmentalists and good land stewards.
Links to additional resources regarding Conservation Compliance:
NRCS Fact Sheet on Conservation Compliance as required in the 2008 Farm Bill
Article: “Protecting Environmental Compliance Programs: A public health priority.” Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Summer 2012.
FARM BILL CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
South Dakota Grassland Coalition Resolution on Farm Bill Conservation Programs [excerpt from Sodsaver resolution]:
“Resolved, conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Grassland Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Conservation Reserve Program must be funded at levels that meet the high demand for implementation.”
Links to additional resources regarding Farm Bill Conservation Programs:
Agriculture land in South Dakota is divided into two classes for tax purposes, crop and noncrop. Of the total valuations statewide, cropland makes up approximately 89% and noncropland 11%. Since the introduction of productivity, valuations for cropland have increased faster than noncropland but currently are farther from full valuation than noncropland.
According to Department of Revenue estimations, if actual use was allowed the State could see up to a 11.24% decrease in tax valuations. The Department assumes that 100% of the land owners having qualifying land would apply for the reduced valuation.
The issue from a grass manager’s stand point is twofold. First, am I being taxed on my noncropland as if it was cropland? Second, is the land being converted to cropland taxed as noncropland? Actual use for valuation purposes would solve both of these issues.